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Well-worn Trail

 

Here they go again.

Halifax Mooseheads centre Raphael Lavoie has emerged as a top-flight NHL Draft prospect, one of more than a half dozen forwards from the QMJHL club since 2013.

If Lavoie goes in the first round this spring as is expected, he will be the seventh Mooseheads forward to be selected in the opening night of the draft in a seven-year stretch. Nathan MacKinnon (first overall, 2013), Jonathan Drouin (third, 2013), Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth, 2014) Timo Meier (ninth, 2015), Nico Hischier (first, 2017) and Filip Zadina (sixth, 2018) have all blazed that trail.

A late-2000 birth, Lavoie began to emerge around the turn of the calendar from 2017 to 2018.

As it flipped again to 2019, Lavoie has solidified his status.

“I think I got a lot of confidence after Christmas last year,” said Lavoie. “I feel like I played pretty well. I had a good summer of training and then I really enjoyed the Team Canada camp in August. I was happy about that and I think I did well there. It was a really good experience to play with all those great players. I don’t want to worry about the draft that much. I don’t think that helps your game. I just want to have a good season and then we’ll see what happens after that.”

Lavoie, about a year younger than the typical Canadian forward that eventually made the final roster, earned a final selection camp invite last month but was released. With about a day to return east from Victoria, he jetted cross-country and played in Halifax’s final game before the holiday break.

If all goes according to plan, such a hurried trip won’t be required next season; Lavoie is expected to be one of a handful of players to play leading roles for the 2020 World Junior in the Czech Republic.

Though not happy with not making the final cut, Lavoie was satisfied with the invite and the work he did to get it, along with his Mooseheads defenceman Jared McIsaac, who eventually made the final roster.

“I learned (I was invited) with all the boys around me so everyone was really happy for me and Jared. It was fun to find out that way.”

Blessed with physical attributes – 6’4”,  191 pounds – that speak for themselves, Lavoie has a varied game that combines his tremendous reach and good puck skills, including a classic “heavy” pro-style shot.

“He’s got pure size and skill,” said Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief. “He can really power his way to the net and has a great shot.”

Woodlief pointed out a common concern about gifted players such as Lavoie: mental/physical engagement. Blessed with tremendous size and skill, often players of Lavoie’s ilk can let up, or lose their focus because it doesn’t hurt them at the major junior level.

“I’d like to see a more consistent work ethic,” said Woodlief.

If Lavoie can improve in this area in this season’s stretch run, like how he found another level in last season’s second half, he could break the top-10.  Another intriguing aspect to Lavoie is that his team is hosting the Memorial Cup; his presence in it ensures a top-flight prospect will be playing in the national championship.

To get there, the Mooseheads will have to navigate what is expected to be an especially difficult side of the draw in the QMJHL post-season. There is little doubt they have the personnel required; the Mooseheads roster includes eight NHL-drafted players, including McIsaac, Alexis Gravel and Benoit-Olivier Groulx, who all played in the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game last year in Guelph.

Last season at the Memorial Cup in Regina, Acadie-Bathurst Titan defenceman Noah Dobson capped a stellar late-season run with a national championship and then a 12th overall selection by the New York Islanders.

Five years earlier, MacKinnon and Drouin led the Moose-heads to the 2013 Memorial Cup title in Saskatoon before going first and third respectively in the NHL Draft.

It’s a good target for Lavoie.

Written for the Canadian Hockey League by Peter Robinson of Prospects Hockey with files from Willy Palov.

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